Good Works, Good Business or Greenwash?
New Horizons in Environmental and Energy Law series
Chapter 1: Introduction
Many companies seem determined to persuade us how green they are. Consider IBM, one of the most committed and most widely recognized companies. Its formal policy begins: ‘IBM is committed to environmental affairs leadership in all its business activities’.1 It was the first major company to commit to a company-wide environmental management system, covering all its operations worldwide. Its policies include being an environmentally responsible neighbor, conserving natural resources, using processes that do not adversely affect the environment, and sharing appropriate pollution prevention technology.2 And it has achieved real results: 50 percent CO2 emissions reductions between 1990 and 2009, recycling 76 percent of its nonhazardous waste in 2009, and reducing its emissions of PFCs in manufacturing by 48.8 percent from 1995 to 2009.3 This is business environmentalism at its best, achieving results and going well beyond regulatory requirements. Of course, not all the examples one could cite would be quite so favorable. BP has worked very hard at burnishing its environmental reputation, claiming that their brand could be summed up by two words: ‘beyond petroleum’.4 Of course, these words now take on a richly ironic meaning about the company’s current business travails, rather than its environmental commitment. Yet when weighed against what we now know to have been a reckless disregard of care and precaution in drilling operations, which were doubtless substantial contributors to the worst oil spill in US history, the sincerity of its commitment to business environmentalism has been seriously undermined. However, even in this admittedly selective worst...